Nothing to waste

Marana’s interns share their summer experiences.

Anthony HunterWhen you think of wastewater, there probably isn’t a pretty picture being painted in your mind. Sludge and gosh-knows-what in the mix.

All of that is true, of course, but after taking a tour of the Marana Wastewater Treatment Facility this past week, I can say that there’s a whole lot more to it than the grotesque. Oddly enough, I came away feeling that the whole process was kind of beautiful in its efficiency and simplicity.

Now, I would have to do some hard book-readin’ before I understood the basic science behind the turning of wastewater into sanitary effluent. But the most amazing part is readily understandable even to the hapless intern, and this is that the process is entirely natural.

That’s right: no chemicals, no incomprehensible voodoo, just an acceleration of Mother Nature’s own ingenious work. The process uses natural cleaning agents available free of charge to all of us, including our very own sun. I never think about it, but that big yellow thing in the sky is one of the biggest reasons why we’re not covered in germs and bugs.

I shouldn’t be giving bugs such a bad rap, though. They play a big part in the show as well. Here’s how it all goes down (in my own words): First the water comes in to the plant through some big ol’ pipes. Here at the “headworks” is where all the big, gnarly stuff gets taken out. We’re talking discarded toys, small plastic items, and really whatever crazy things you can imagine. It’s a sight to see.

Next, after more pipe-traveling, the water makes its way to an 11-foot deep, near-Olympic size pool that I would not recommend taking a dip in. Here is where nature really starts to work its magic, with the help of those bugs I mentioned. See, at this point there’s a whole lot of stuff still left in the water, stuff that was too small to get strained out in the screening early on. It would be pretty difficult to get all that stuff out of there using man-made tools or processes, so why bother? There are plenty of tiny organisms that live off the stuff in the water anyhow, so instead of working harder, we’ll just pull a Tom Sawyer and let the bugs do our work. Everybody’s happy, and the little guys are none the wiser.

After a while of getting churned through this part of the process, the water will eventually make its way up and up and after being filtered through sand,  get blasted by UV rays. The chamber in which this happens was one of the cooler looking ones, and at this point the water is almost unrecognizable from its former self. The process is nearly complete and, so far, no chemicals.

Now, before the water gets sent to the Santa Cruz, there is a dose of chlorine added to be double-safe that the water is clean, but the water is then de-chlorinated prior to shipping out. So maybe not entirely 100 percent chemical free, but pretty darn close. I was impressed, at least.

So, if you’ve ever had doubts about the water that comes out of these treatment plants, you can rest assured that at least ours here in Marana is taking care of business, in an eco-friendly way.

Anthony Hunter is a Master of Public Administration candidate at the University of Arizona. Look for intern Heath Vescovi-Chiordi’s blog on Friday. 

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